Andy Fickman is not in love with Dwayne Johnson.
"I am in heavy like," Fickman says, as he paces around his Disney Studios office, which looks as if a 12-year-old boy exploded in it, decorated as it is with alien heads, robots, and a five-foot poster of Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson in skivvies and knee pads, a Post-it artfully taped over the crotch. "It is the weirdest thing," he continues, handling a Johnson action figure. "I swear to you, you walk around with him, and just the sight of him makes other people smile."
Behind him the actual Dwayne Johnson pretends to be interested in the contents of Fickman's bookshelves. The two worked together last year on 'The Game Plan,' which Fickman directed, and are shooting an amped-up remake of 'Escape to Witch Mountain.' The unexpected success of 'The Game Plan' (more than $100 million for a comedy about a bachelor quarterback raising an eight-year-old daughter) has made Johnson the new go-to guy for family-focused Disney. Twentieth Century Fox apparently feels the same way, having signed him to play the tooth fairy.
"Listen," Fickman says conspiratorially, "as a director, I need a star, even if he's the biggest asshole in the world. But the crew can pick and choose projects. And every single one of them came back when they heard we were casting Dwayne."
As he says this Johnson comes up behind him, grinning a mack daddy monster-cheese grin. "Tell the story about the bathrobe," Johnson prods.
Fickman obliges, launching into a long anecdote whose sole purpose is to make Johnson look like a douche bag. "So there was his double, knocked out cold, and Dwayne is on the sidelines, in his robe, oblivious, picking fruity snacks from his assistant's palm, like, 'Ooooh, the purple ones are my favorite.' He may as well have been wearing an ascot."
Johnson laughs loudly, then extends his palm and pretends to eat fruity snacks. "What an asshole," he says of himself.
Dwayne Johnson is not an asshole. Assholes do not relish in the telling of stories that make them look like assholes. Nor do they show up on time, send thank-you notes, stay in love with their ex-wives, or schedule multimillion-dollar projects around their daughters' soccer schedules. By all accounts Johnson is the antithesis of asshole, his last foray into actual assholery being a 1992 college football game during which, in a fit of adrenaline, he chased the opposing team's mascot with the intention of beating him to a pulp.
"Eighteen-karat asshole," he says.
Since then Johnson has matured, transformed. He is 36 now, a newly single grown man with a six-year-old daughter and a mushrooming movie career. He has gone from action hero ('The Scorpion King') to character actor ('Be Cool') to childproof leading man ('The Game Plan'). Not all that long ago Johnson was the adrenal WWF champ who did the eyebrow thing and told foes to drink big glasses of "shut-up juice." Now he has trimmed down (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and cleaned up (buzz-cut the fade) and evolved in a way that is hard for any actor, but particularly for those who come from the world of sports entertainment, which may be why he has finally, formally dropped "the Rock" from the Dwayne Johnson sandwich.
No longer an athlete-actor hybrid, he is striving to become something else: everything else. In a way he is a modern breed of film star. A man as interested in the business of show as he is in performance. An amalgam of magnetism and marketing savvy. Talented and shameless. A charming control freak. George Clooney minus the smugness. Arnold minus the skeeve. Tom Cruise minus the crazy. Ryan Seacrest, if Seacrest were a man.
"He's the real deal," says director Peter Segal, who cast Johnson as James Bondian Agent 23 in the upcoming Get Smart. In that film, premiering June 20, Johnson will showcase his improv chops alongside Steve Carell.
"We wrestled on-set all the time," says Carell. "We would oil up. Do Greco-Roman. Oh, it was just so much fun. After the wrestling, we'd snap towels at each other. I called him Rock 'the Dwayne' Johnson."
Carell adds, with unexpected seriousness, "He's a good comedic actor. I wouldn't bet against him in anything. Comedy, action. I would like to see him do dramatic work."
So would the studio heads, who view Johnson as the world's most attractive cash machine.
"When we cast him in 'The Mummy Returns' as the ultimate baddie, I remember sitting and watching dailies, and my sense of him was that here was the next great action star, even though he didn't speak a word of English in that film," says producer Kevin Misher. "Everybody who sat in that room – Ron Meyer, the marketing guys – they all got it. There was a sense of inevitability."
Johnson may not yet have the gravitas of a Harrison Ford or a Will Smith, the kind of megastars who are bankable in any genre, but give him time. "He knows who he is, and he knows the potential for the future. He's smart about it," says Misher, who made the $165 million-grossing 'The Scorpion King' explicitly for Johnson. "And he's always working at it. Always."